newmusicfriday

White Wall by Anne Lanzilotti

This is the final post in a series featuring the program notes for Scott Wollschleger's debut album, Soft Aberration out next week on New Focus Recordings!

“I think there’s a kind of emptied quality to the string quartet, and those pieces I wrote at that time.” Scott trails off slightly, then continues, “I think the white noise signified that sort of complete emptiness that’s at the very end of something. But to have that be the actual starting spot was the idea.” We’re sitting in my living room on what is probably the windiest day in winter this season. The old windows in my apartment aren’t sealed well, and the entire recorded interview is accompanied by a pervasive cold wind. Every time Scott pauses as he’s thinking about the white noise sounds, it seems as though the wind picks up, as though it can tell that we’re talking about it. Wollschleger continued:

[White Wall] definitely represented a break in my own work, or in myself, or in my approach to art, where I wanted to see how you could start from nothing, and pull from within itself something. . . . If you were to drain music from itself, what would be left over?

The beginning of the piece is almost a sound installation. We hear the “breathing” of the four instruments as they are activated by white noise. The breathing turns into humming, slowly unearthing a melody. As this “song” emerges from the white noise, it begins to dance around the fluttering creatures that surround it. Wollschleger elaborated:

Again, this notion of unfolding from within itself was the goal—utopian chimera, Adorno’s dream. But I think ending it with a dance was my way of saying this isn’t going to happen. . . . That’s why I think I had to add that second movement.

Yet, the playful dance of the second movement also disintegrates. This pervasive feeling of being drained cannot be shaken. Wollschleger added:

I always think of the white noise as the bleached out remains of a human. Which I think is kind of beautiful idea: when nothing is left, that’s all that’s left, that white noise. . . . And after history, and after Brahms, and after all our feelings, what would there be? The white noise points to that language which might be left for us.

Soft Aberration is available on New Focus Recordings October 20th!

Read the previous post in this series on "America."

Soft Aberration by Anne Lanzilotti

In anticipation of the release of Scott Wollschleger's debut album, Soft Aberration, I will be sharing my program notes for each of the works. This week's notes are on the title track, Soft Aberration, for viola and piano.

It’s very difficult for me to write about this piece because I’m so close to it: Soft Aberration was written for Karl Larson and me. In my interpretation of the piece as a performer, the piano sets out its idea of how things are structured by itself—the entire first section is void of the other instrumentalist. When the viola enters, it is holding onto the memory of a melody that used to be beautiful, now so far beyond even being a melody that it is just shapes of white noise. Perhaps we never actually hear the original, only an idealistic version in harmonics. At the center of the piece, the hearts of the two instruments are exposed, but ultimately this is not a place we can stay.

This interpretation is not something any of us had discussed explicitly, so I was surprised that Scott’s musical intention was so clear when I read his final program note for the piece:

Soft Aberration is a piece about imitation, but rather than sharing identical musical material I imagined each instrument as a damaged reflective surface which projects a kind of “broken echo” between the two instruments. In some sense the piano wants to “see itself” in the viola’s music and the viola wants the same from the piano. The two struggle with this throughout the piece and at various times they find a way to “see” each other.

In a recent conversation, Scott elaborated on the poetics of white noise as used in this work:

Your part in Soft Aberration is something that’s gone. But also, I thought of it as a mirroring thing where you’re not able to see each other because this is true of life—everyone, no matter how close you are—there’s a part of you that they’ll never know and you’ll never know them. . . . This is the mystery of life in a way, to never fully be able to express yourself to someone. We’re always missing each other a little bit.
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Soft Aberration is out on New Focus Records October 20th!

Read the previous post in this series on "Brontal Symmetry."

Read the next post in this series on "Bring Something Incomprehensible into This World."